LI Policy Manager Ben Brown summarises and analyses the latest from the world of urban design: the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, CPRE and Place Alliance’s National Housing Design Audit, and more

    The Accordia Living housing development in Cambridge. © Grant Associates

    Last week (9 July 2019), the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission published its interim report, tentatively titled Creating Space for Beauty. Launched on the same day as the new, LI co-sponsored Festival of Place, the report has prompted a flurry of activity relating to urban design.

    Our initial thoughts are below, along with a summary of related publications and events.

    Building better, building beautiful

    Hopes weren’t high for this report, for various reasons. But rather than revisit history, we can now take the interim report and its recommendations on their own merits – and on first reading, it’s rather sensible.

    The report is based on a three-scale structure:

    • beautiful buildings,
    • beautiful places, and
    • beauty in the right place.

    (In, one would hope, increasing order of importance.)

    There are 30 proposed recommendations, the majority of which are rational, and some of which are positively excellent. There is very welcome support for upstreamed democracy and master-planning, environmental net gain, design review, enforcement of maintenance requirements, non-negotiable green infrastructure, and landscape and urban design skills in local authorities.

    The LI will be continuing to engage with the Commission as it works towards its final report.

    Related news

    CPRE / Place Alliance’s National Housing Design Audit

    Place Alliance and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) are replicating the methodology of the original housing audits undertaken by CABE during the New Labour years. Announced last month, this project will review the state of recent housing quality across England.

    This focusses primarily on housing design, but that does include placemaking, and with CPRE sponsoring rural landscapes will presumably be a priority. It’s unclear how the audit will avoid bias and sampling errors (given it’s being led by on-the-ground volunteers) but more evidence on the nature of the problem is always welcome.

    Report: Distinctively Local

    Published by four architectural practices, this report is a response to MHCLG’s challenge to architects to create better places. Its recommendations for better placemaking (for instance, walkable streets, open spaces and respecting landscape boundaries) are all very familiar – but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, if you’re after a well-written summary of what good design and placemaking is, this is about as good as it gets. If for some reason you can’t get your hands on a copy of Building for Life 12, read this.

    Report: Housing Britain, a Call to Action

    The Prince’s Foundation has published a ‘Call to Action’ on housing and place quality, with 14 recommendations. Although the focus is on housing (and, as with all PF reports, on how great Poundbury is) the bits between the buildings do get a look in, and there’s support for green spaces, biodiversity, walkability, SuDS, etc.

    Upcoming: MHCLG Design Guidance

    This guide will accompany Planning Practice Guidance as an ABC of ‘what good design is’ for planners and developers. MHCLG has just awarded the contract to produce the guidance to Tibbaulds and the Design council, with publication expected later in the summer. Some of the LI’s members are feeding in.

    Festival of Place

    The aforementioned new conference, co-sponsored by the Landscape Institute, had its first run last week. It included an awards ceremony for placemaking. See the winners online.


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